2 council decisions may help increase open-space monitors

June 16, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Two recent County Council decisions could help increase the number of groups authorized to monitor open space land in western Howard County, but county planners say it's too early to tell whether the actions will offer relief to developers stymied by county land-preservation regulations.

Under a relatively untested plan to save open space by clustering new homes and preserving large tracts of undeveloped land, the preserved tracts were to be monitored by two entities, each holding an easement giving it the right to prevent the property from being developed.

But two of the main organizations that were allowed and had been expected to hold easements, the Maryland Environmental Trust and the Maryland Historical Trust, said they can't afford to hold the large number of easements created by the county's 1992 zoning rules.

To fill the void, council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, approved last week a Department of Planning and Zoning proposal to allow homeowners' associations to hold easements. In addition, the council certified the Audubon Society of Central as a conservation organization last spring.

"It just gives more flexibility," said Pamela B. Sorota, vice president and legislative chair of the Howard County Homebuilders Association. She said negotiating an easement agreement with a conservation group can hold up the development process -- especially when there aren't many groups from which to choose.

Although there are dozens of west county subdivisions going through the county's development approval process, county planners say the bulk of them have not reached the point where nTC they must name easement holders. Before the changes, only the county government and the Howard County Conservancy could hold easements. Developers have questioned the ability of the county and the conservancy to take on all parcels.

The conservancy, the county's first recognized conservation organization, objected to allowing homeowners associations to hold easements, except as a last resort. "We opposed what was passed and continue to feel that it was a mistake because it's a potential conflict of interest for homeowners associations and because homeowners associations don't have any experience in land preservation," said conservancy President James H. Eacker.

Ms. Sorota said concerns that developers will create homeowners associations to manipulate the new easement rules are not warranted.

"[A developer] would never, in my mind, create a homeowners association just to hold an easement, because it would cost more than it would cost to negotiate with the conservancy to hold an easement," she said. "Who better to police [the easement] than the people who live next to the preservation parcel?"

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